ZTE Axon review

An unlocked Android phone that balances price and specs

ZTE Axon review

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The ZTE Axon keeps up with higher-priced Android competition on the inside, too. In fact, the internal specs are identical to this year's HTC One M9 and the new OnePlus 2.

It has the sometimes-fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor that's comprised of a combined 2GHz quad-core and 1.5 GHz quad-core CPU.

This System on a Chip has an Adreno 430 GPU running graphics duties and a high-ceiling 4GB of RAM, which actually outpaces the 3GB of RAM in the HTC One M9.

ZTE Axon review

So, how does it perform? Exactly like the LG G Flex 2, the first phone to use the Snapdragon 810: it starts out as the fastest chip around, but then slows down and makes the phone hot.

That's frustrating, because it had a great Geekbench 3 multi-core score of 4,507 initially, rivaling everything but the Samsung Galaxy S6, but then it sank lower and lower in each subsequent benchmark test: down to 3,806, then down to 3,128 and all the way down to 2,442 by the end.

All of these figures translated into occasional menu stutters, four random resets and a much warmer phone. But that only happened when running multiple applications, so not everyone is going to be taxing their $450 phone to the hilt.

Some may be quicker to experience a different kind of bottleneck: maxing out the 32GB of internal storage. That's the only option for the ZTE Axon. You won't find a 64GB upgrade and, more disappointingly, there's no microSD card slot onboard for expandable storage.

ZTE Axon review

ZTE Axon review

The ZTE Axon speaker grills at the top and bottom of the phone don't accurately reflect what's heard from the AKM 4961 audio chip, sadly. While voice calls come out of the top speaker, it's non-operational for movies, music and even speakerphone calls.

That's all handled by the bottom speaker for a disappointingly mono setup. ZTE does include high-end JBL E13 earbuds – valued at $50 – in the box to make up for this omission.

Whether I'm using the fancy earbuds, the speakerphone or the phone up to my ear, I can hear everything loud and clear. The call quality is on-point and the volume is loud enough carry on a conversation in a moderately crowded restaurant.

Matt Swider